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After months of chest pain, young father learns heart disease can happen to anyone

Patient Spotlight February 06, 2017 By Main Line Health

“I never thought I would have a heart problem.”

Forty-two year old Nick Calabretti isn’t unlike most middle-aged and young adults. Even after bouts of chest pain, tightness, and pressure that lasted anywhere from 10 minutes to 12 hours, he was convinced it was anything but his heart.

“I’m not the type of person to research it. I just ignored it—I figured it was because I had heartburn or that it meant I was out of shape,” he recalls.

But, after two months of persistent symptoms, Calabretti knew something wasn’t right. On a Friday morning — in the midst of his workday — Calabretti called his family doctor, Walter Lewis, MD. Calabretti detailed his symptoms and Dr. Lewis—recognizing the urgency— referred his patient to Richard McCurdy, Jr., MD, FACC, a Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health.

Calabretti was given a same-day appointment with Dr. McCurdy. During his visit, Dr. McCurdy confirmed that Calabretti’s concern was well-founded.

“Based on my symptoms, Dr. McCurdy told me to come over to Riddle immediately. I still didn’t know what was going on but I knew that, if they called me over then, it was serious,” says Calabretti.

When he arrived, Calabretti was immediately taken to the hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab, where interventional cardiologist Ancil Jones, MD, uncovered the source of months-long chest pain and pressure: an artery that had been severely narrowed by plaque build-up, making it difficult to deliver oxygen and blood to Calabretti’s heart. 

“Mr. Calabretti came to us at the right time,” says Dr. McCurdy. “Chest pain, tightness or pressure like he was experiencing for so long is one of the telltale signs of a blocked artery in the heart. Left untreated, plaque build-up can result in a massive heart attack or death.”

System-wide care to save a life

On Saturday morning, after an evening in the hospital, Calabretti was transferred to Lankenau Medical Center. For Calabretti, it had been a whirlwind. Not even 24 hours ago, he hadn’t considered himself at risk for heart disease. Now, he was preparing for surgery.

Still, he had trust in his care team.

“I’m married and I have young kids at home. My family was nervous, but the team made me and my family feel comfortable,” says Calabretti.

Calabretti was scheduled for a coronary artery bypass grafting surgery (CABG), a procedure which would create a detour around his narrowed arteries to get much-needed blood supply to his heart. The surgery would be performed robotically by Francis P Sutter, DO, FACS, system chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Lankenau Heart Institute. One of the leading robotic surgeons in the nation, Dr. Sutter has performed more than 1,500 robotic-assisted CABG surgeries since 2005. 

Performing Calabretti’s surgery robotically would offer several benefits, including smaller incisions for surgery, less scarring and blood loss, reduced risk of complication and a quicker and more comfortable recovery. 

Dr. Sutter would also perform Calabretti’s surgery while his heart was beating—a technique referred to as “beating heart” or “off-pump” bypass surgery—and without the use of a heart-lung machine.

“Beating heart bypass surgery offers several benefits to the patient, including quick recovery, a shorter hospital stay, a reduced need for blood transfusions, and fewer cognitive or neurological consequences—like confusion or stroke,” explains Dr. Sutter.

Of the nearly 1,000 cardiac surgeries performed across Lankenau Heart Institute, more than 65 percent are done using a minimally invasive approach.

“Although the majority of our surgeries are performed using minimally invasive techniques, we are committed to providing safe, quality care to our patients regardless of their treatment,” says Konstadinos Plestis, MD, system chief of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery at Lankenau Heart Institute. “For patients who do require open heart surgery or the use of heart-lung machines—“on pump”—we adhere to and exceed national safety standards.”

From surgery to recovery, Calabretti was comfortable—and impressed.

“The whole process was quick and efficient. I was out of the hospital just three days later. Everything went perfectly,” he says. 

Nearly six months after his surgery, Calabretti remains grateful that he picked up the phone when he did. His story has opened his eyes to the prevalence of heart disease. 

“When you’re my age, you don’t think you could have a serious problem. But I was glad to have the Main Line Health team there when I did. Dr. McCurdy and Dr. Sutter are as nice and professional as you can find, and my care was first class from start to finish,” he says.